Google Home: The surprise of how it is and is not like Amazon Echo.

Brian Roemmele
5 min readMay 20, 2016

Home Is Where The Heart Of “Voice First” Is

Today (5/18/2016) Mario Queiroz, VP of product management of Google announced Google Home (Home) [1] a Voice First device. Google Home is openly flattering to the very popular Amazon’s Echo (Echo) product. Home is a device with the central purpose of interacting with Google Assistant. This is a derivative of the “Ok Google”, Google Search and Google Now natural language processing platform designed specifically for Home.

In my view it is not a mistake to call this product Home, because in my Voice First Manifesto I projected that these devices will define a physical space, a room. You feel the presence after a while of usage and it becomes natural to speak to the device when you enter a room or are occupying the room.

Fresh off last week’s Viv [2] demonstration by Dag Kittlaus of Viv Labs, the momentum of Voice First systems is increasing. Viv currently presents the most advanced systems demonstrated to date with Home, Echo and Siri still a generation behind when judged by many metrics. This situation will change as each system matures. Most notable will be the update Apple will make to Siri at the 2016 WWDC (World Wide Developer Conference) where Siri II will be announced.

Specimen of an exploded view of Google Home.

Google Home And Amazon Echo Are Twins

Very much like Echo, Home is primarily a speaker, a series of far field microphones with local electronics that senses voice, records snippets that include dialogs after the “Ok Google” activation. This recorded stream is sent to Google for lexiconical analysis with intent extraction to determine what was stated. The heavy lifting is done in the cloud and not on the local device exactly like Echo. Also like Echo, Home will create a sound file with on the fly voice synthesis to be derived to the device as an audio stream.

Home uses Google’s Cast standard [3]. This allows you to network a series of Home devices throughout your living areas with continuity as you move from room to room. For example, you can talk to any Home device and tell it to play music on other Home devices or Chromecast devices. The Cast standard will also allow for data, video and pictures to be presented to any nearby ChromeCast screen/TV.

Specimen of a top view of Google Home.

The real power of Home is the deep connection with Google Assistant and the many years of development around search and deep learning AI via Tensor Flow and other Machine Learning systems. The secret sauce for Home is Google Assistant is optimized for Voice First environments giving just enough voice information on requests without droning on too long. This is abundantly important for any Voice First device. Google in a sense is building the foundation of a Voice OS around Home and this is just the start.

No Public API For Google Home — Yet

Google will not have a public developer API for its Google Assistant or for Home. Google wants to build out the ways Voice First systems can act as the interpreter between your natural way of speaking and the way they interpret intent. Mario Queiroz made it clear today that Echo will be more capable then Home: “With Echo, you start getting deeper and it doesn’t work very well, then you’re sort of disappointed. And I think that happens with Alexa sometimes. We’re competing feature for feature in most of the areas. And in the areas that really matter to the consumer, we’re going to do a better job then Echo.”

Specimen list of launch partner for Google Home.

Google Home Will Do Less Then Amazon Echo — On Purpose

Home during its first release this fall will focus on working with Google Assistant and a small set of home automation devices that will include at least some thermostats and lights. It will be able to do all the things Google assistant can currently do. This includes thousands ontological entities and their relation to one another. Home will have the ability to connect to services like Uber, Instacart, Grubhub, Openable, etc. in the fall and will likely have much deeper connections to these services then Echo.

Specimen of skill focus for Google Home.

Voice First Devices — A Revolution

This is a very early days for Voice First devices and as I presented here on the Quora Knowledge Prize Question: Brian Roemmele’s answer to Is Amazon Echo (and/or Siri and other voice assistants) actually useful, or is it just a novelty? Are usage and retention of these products growing? Voice First devices will not just be a novelty. In fact I assert that they represent a revolution in the way we will all interact with our computers, information and commerce in the next 10 years. I presented a thesis on Tech.Pionion here: There is A Revolution Ahead and It Has A Voice.

Voice First devices like Home and Echo will be driven by Voice Commerce and Voice Payments. Advertising simply will not exist in the current form with Voice First devices. Google built its business on search and advertising and it is abundantly clear Google understands search and also understands Voice First represents a paradigm shift in the advertising model they built up to this point.

Home and Echo represent just the start of the Voice First revolution. This is the start of the first wave Voice First devices and it will be likely these companies will enter with consumer grade and enterprise grade systems and devices:

  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • IBM
  • Oracle
  • Salesforce
  • Samsung
  • Sony
  • Facebook

Additionally there are 17 stealth startups that will produce a multitude of highly unique Voice First devices.

We are indeed at the start of a Voice First Revolution.